Blogs

Blogs

From Soviet assistance to the race with the US to take advantage of the mineral wealth of asteroids

The arrival of a Chinese artifact on the hidden side of the Moon has led world public opinion to focus on the Chinese space program, more developed than many imagined. Assisted by the Soviets in their beginnings, the Chinese have ended up taking a lead in some programs (probably more apparent than real, due to some setbacks), such as the development of their own permanent space station, and compete with the United States in the desire to take advantage of the mineral wealth of asteroids.

Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center

▲ Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center [CNSA]

ARTICLE / Sebastián Bruzzone [Spanish version]

The Chinese space program started at the beginning of the Cold War, in the midst of a direct struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union for the control of international politics. Since 1955, Chairman Mao Zedong looked for the respect of the world powers and decided to follow in the footsteps of the neighboring country, the USSR. In March of the following year, the Fifth Academy of the Ministry of National Defense began the development of a first ballistic missile (Twelve Year Chinese Aerospace Plan). After the launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union in 1957, Mao embarked on the development of a Chinese artificial satellite that would be active in space two years later (Project 581), an effort materially and economically supported by the Soviet Union. However, in the early 1960s, all economic and technological assistance by the USSR stopped after Beijing accused Nikita Khrushchev of being a revisionist leader who wanted to restore capitalism.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) is in charge of the Chinese space program. The first Chinese manned space flight took place in 2003, with Yang Liwei, aboard the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft, which was docked to the Tiangong-1 space station. In this way, China became the third nation to send humans out of Earth. The main objective of the Shenzhou missions is the establishment of a permanent space station. Up to now, there have been nine Chinese men and seven women in space.

Since 2007, China put its focus on the Moon. The Chinese lunar exploration program has been developed in four phases. The first (Chang'e 1 and 2), that took place in 2007 with CZ-3A, was the launching of two unmanned lunar orbital probes. The second (Chang'e 3 and 4), conducted in 2013 with CZ-5/E, was the first moon landing of two rovers. The third one (Chang'e 5 and 6), executed in 2017 with CZ-5/E, consisted of a moon landing and return of samples. And the fourth, scheduled for 2024 with CZ-7, will consist of a manned mission and the implementation of permanent instructions on the lunar surface.

The Chang'e 4 mission was launched on December 8, 2018; the landing took place on 3rd January 2019 in the crater Von Kárman (186 kilometers of diameter), in the southern hemisphere of the hidden face of the Moon. The landing was a success, according to Sun Zezhou, chief engineer of the mission. The images transmitted by the Yutu-2 rover showed that this lunar surface never before explored is densely perforated by impact craters and that its crust is thicker than the visible side. As part of a biological project a cotton seed sprouted, but the high levels of radiation, lower gravity than terrestrial and sudden changes in temperature killed the cotton plant some days later. Given that the hidden side of the Moon is protected from any interference from the Earth, according to astronomers, it should be a good place to better study the evolution of stars and galaxies.

In mid-2017, Chinese intentions to search for scarce minerals on Earth on the surface and, if possible, inside asteroids, were made public. Within China's space program, this particular issue occupies an important place. According to Ye Peijan, head of the lunar exploration program, in recent years his country has been studying the possibility of executing a mission that captures an asteroid to place it in the orbit of the Moon, and thus be able to mine it, or even use it as a permanent space station, according to the South China Morning Post. The same official highlighted that in the Solar System and near our planet there are asteroids and stars with a large amount of precious metals and other materials. This plan could be launched as soon as 2020. To do this, the CNSA will use the Tianzhou position ships, unlike the Shenzhou manned exploration vessels whose main objective is the establishment of a permanent space station, or the Chang'e of lunar missions.

The cost of this futuristic plan would be very high and it would involve the organization of complex and high-risk missions, but the interest will not decline, since it could be very profitable in the long term and would provide billionaire benefits. Goldman Sachs analyst Noah Poponak has pointed out that a single asteroid could have more than 50 billion dollars in platinum, as well as water or other precious metals.

The capture of an asteroid requires, first, that a ship land on its surface, to anchor itself. The ship must have incredibly powerful engines, so that, being anchored, it may be able to drag the entire asteroid into the Moon's orbit. These thrusters, with enough power to move a rock of thousands of tons, still do not exist. Ye Peijan has warned that this technology needed for such a space experience could take approximately 40 years to develop. For the moment, in March 2017 China announced in the official press that it had the intention of sending probes to the cosmos to study trajectories and characteristics of some objective asteroids. Thus China goes to direct competition with NASA, which is developing a program to reach an asteroid as well.

Tiangong-1 was the first space laboratory that China put into orbit, in 2011, measuring 10.5 meters in length, 3.4 meters in diameter and weighing 8.5 tons, with the objective of carrying out experiments within the Chinese space program and starting the permanent station that the CNSA seeks to have in orbit by 2023. Against all speculations, in 2016 the digital control of the ship was lost and it ended destroyed in pieces over the Pacific Ocean, northwest of New Zealand. Subsequently, that very year a second module, Tiangong-2, was launched with the same objectives. On the other hand, China is making progress in the plan to establish a permanent space station. According to Yang Liwei, the central capsule will be launched in 2020 and the two experimental modules in the two subsequent years, with manned missions and position spacecraft.

More blog entries

Publicador de contenidos

Carrera por los recursos espaciales: de la minería al control de rutas

▲ proposal of lunar base for obtaining helium, taken from ExplainingTheFuture.com [Christopher Barnatt]. GLOBAL AFFAIRS JOURNAL / Emili J. Blasco [8-page document.... ReadmoreAboutRace for space resources: from mining to route control "

Ecuador desaprovecha su salida de la OPEP y pierde producción petrolera

The country left the cartel in order to expand its pumping, but the Covid-19 crisis has cut extraction volumes by 10.8%. Construction of a variant of the pipeline that crosses the... ReadmoreAboutEcuador misses out on OPEC exit and loses oil production "

Argentina ve en Vaca Muerta una tabla de salvación, pero falta más capital para su desarrollo

The hydrocarbon field is the central axis of the Gas 2020-2023 Plan of President Alberto Fernández, which subsidizes part of the investment Activity of YPF, Argentina's state-owned oil and gas... ReadmoreAboutArgentina sees Vaca Muerta as a lifeline, but more capital is needed for its development "

El gas natural licuado cambia el juego en el hemisferio americano

U.S. LNG sales to its neighbors and exports from Latin American and Caribbean countries to Europe and Asia open new perspectives Not to depend on gas pipelines, but to be able to buy or sell... ReadmoreAboutLiquefied natural gas is a game changer in the American hemisphere "

Could Spain partner up with Morocco in the field of solar energy?

The two countries are greatly exposed to solar radiation and they already share electricity interconnectors Spain was an early developer of solar energy, but it didn't keep the pace with the... ReadmoreAboutCould Spain partner up with Morocco in the field of solar energy? "

Surinam sigue a Guyana en el ‘milagro’ petrolero

The finding of a "significant" amount of oil in off-shore wells places the former Dutch colony in the footsteps of neighboring Guyana. The intuition has proved to be right and the... ReadmoreAboutSuriname follows Guyana in the oil 'miracle' "

Climate Refugees will raise, nations should find the way for shelter them

▲ Flood rescue in the Afghan village of Jalalabad, in 2010 [NATO]. ESSAY / Alejandro J. Alfonso In December of 2019, Madrid hosted the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP25,... ReadmoreAboutClimate Refugees will raise, nations should find the way for shelter them "

La nueva guerra de precios petroleros

March and April 2020 will be remembered in the oil industry as the months in which the perfect storm occurred: a drop of more than 20% in global demand at the same time that the oil industry... ReadmoreAboutThe new oil price war "

Was the Madrid COP25 useful?

The UN Conference did little to increase international commitment to climate change action, but did at least boost the assertiveness of the EU In recent years, the temperature of the Earth has... ReadmoreAboutWas the Madrid COP25 useful? "

La minería ilegal, la otra destrucción de la Amazonía

Gold mining and oil transport pollute Amazonian rivers It is not only the fires that are negatively affecting the Amazon, which is undergoing an accelerated reduction of... ReadmoreAboutIllegal mining, the other destruction of the Amazon "

Centroamérica aprovecha sus volcanes para generación eléctrica

Geothermal energy already accounts for 7.5% of the Central American electricity mix, with installed capacity still far below the estimated potential. Volcanic activity and tectonic movement... ReadmoreAboutCentral America harnesses its volcanoes for power generation "

Jordan River Basin: Hydropolitics as an arena for regional cooperation

▲Satellite imagery of the Jordan River [NASA]. ANALYSIS / Marina Díaz Escudero Water is an essential natural resource, not only for individual survival on Earth, but also for nation-states... Read moreAboutJordan River Basin: Hydropolitics as an arena for regional cooperation "

Qué hará Bolivia con su gas natural cuando Brasil y Argentina ya no lo necesiten

The upcoming gas self-sufficiency of its two major gas-buying neighbors forces the Bolivian government to seek alternative markets Yacimientos Pretrolíferos Fiscales gas plant in... ReadmoreAboutWhat Bolivia will do with its natural gas when Brazil and Argentina no longer need it "

Blood diamonds keep going through Antwerp

The Belgian city, the world's capital of diamonds, has applied more regulations, sanctions and scrutiny on the industry, but still there are some bad practices ▲ The diamond industry has... ReadmoreAboutBlood diamonds keep going through Antwerp "

Cumbre del Clima 2018, un paso hacia adelante

The meeting COP24 made progress in regulating the Paris agreement , but "carbon markets" remained blocked. Mobilizations in favor of governments taking more drastic measures... ReadmoreAboutClimate Summit 2018, a step forward "

La nueva Guyana petrolera y su proyección internacional

One of the poorest countries in the Americas may become the world's largest oil producer per capita, disrupting the relationship with its neighbors. The promising oil discoveries... ReadmoreAboutThe new oil Guyana and its international projection "

Acuífero Guaraní: mejor que otros, pero pervivencia no asegurada

Geopolitical misgivings about perceived foreign interests should not distract beneficiary countries from implementing sustainable use. The Guarani Aquifer has given rise to a... ReadmoreAboutAquifer Guarani: better than others, but survival not assured "

El 'boom' de la quinoa

Global interest in this fashionable grain has brought additional income to Andean communities. The localization of quinoa production, especially in Peru and Bolivia (together they account for... ReadmoreAboutThe quinoa boom "

Impulso a la conexión gasística de los países de la Iniciativa de los Tres Mares

Poland-Germany struggle for influence in the European region between the Baltic, the Adriatic and the Black Sea The latest summit of the Three Seas Initiative (TMI) was attended by the... ReadmoreAboutBoosting the gas connection of the Three Seas Initiative countries "

'Guerras del agua' en Asia Central

Central Asian republics dispute scarce water resources in the Aral Sea Basin The lack of effective cooperation between the republics through which the two main water resources of the... Read moreAbout'Water Wars' in Central Asia "